Mnangagwa retires top military men while vice-president is out of country

18 February 2019 - 15:06 By James Thompson
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa has retired four senior army commanders, regarded as key players in the military transition that toppled former president Robert Mugabe.

In a statement sent through his chief secretary Misheck Sibanda, the president is reassigning the commanders to new portfolios completely detached from military operations. They are expected to move to the ministries of foreign affairs and international trade, which are removed from domestic politics.

Sibanda's statement announced Mnangagwa's decision "to retire and reassign senior military officers to diplomatic service in line with government’s critical global engagement and re-engagement strategy.”

Major-General Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe, who was commander of the elite Presidential Guard that brought to an end former president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year-rule in November 2017 - and also the leader of the military unit that reportedly shot at unarmed protesters, killing at least six civilians on August 1 as post-election violence rocked Harare - is the most notable retired servicemen.

Sources say Sanyatwe - a close ally of Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, the former army boss - might be posted to Tanzania on an ambassadorial role.

Air Vice-Marshall Shebba Shumbayawonda, who was the acting commander of the country's air force when Mugabe was toppled, has also been retired.

Major-General Martin Chedondo, who in recent years has been active in Zanu-PF’s commissariat, is also on the list. In 2012 he openly told soldiers to “support Zanu-PF because it is the only political party that has national interests at heart”.

Then there is Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, another fierce defender of Mugabe’s rule. In 2002 he was the chief executive officer of the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the predecessor of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC).

Nyikayaramba is credited with playing an important role in ensuring a win for Mugabe in the disputed 2002 elections, the first time he faced off with the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mnangagwa's move to retire the commanders comes at a time when Chiwenga - whose political capital relies on their military standing - is in India seeking medical treatment.

The president commented on Chiwenga’s absence at a Zanu-PF rally in Mwenenzi over the weekend. “The vice-president, General Chiwenga, is not feeling well - that is why he is not with us here,” he told supporters.

Since coming to power in 2017 - and surviving a bomb attack at a rally in Bulawayo during the run-up to the July 2018 elections - Mnangagwa has made wholescale changes to the police, retiring top cops formerly linked to Mugabe.

He has also changed his personal security. Since November 2017, he was exclusively guarded by the military, his perceived handlers who assisted his rise to power. But as of last week, men in army uniforms were replaced by men in suits - reportedly a mixture of army, police and air force members.

Analysts say Mnangagwa is moving fast to take direct charge of all the security services and ensure that they are loyal to him - just like Mugabe did before him - to avoid internal resistance.

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